British conspiracy theorists setting fire to cell towers out of mistaken belief they cause COVID-19
Boris Johnson (Tolga AKMEN AFP)

On Monday, The New York Times reported that conspiracy theorists in Britain are setting fire to 5G cell towers, out of a paranoid belief these towers are responsible for the novel coronavirus pandemic.


"Across Britain, more than 30 acts of arson and vandalism have taken place against wireless towers and other telecom gear this month, according to police reports and a telecom trade group. In roughly 80 other incidents in the country, telecom technicians have been harassed on the job," wrote Adam Satariano and Davey Alba. "The attacks were fueled by the same cause, government officials said: an internet conspiracy theory that links the spread of the coronavirus to an ultrafast wireless technology known as 5G. Under the false idea, which has gained momentum in Facebook groups, WhatsApp messages and YouTube videos, radio waves sent by 5G technology are causing small changes to people’s bodies that make them succumb to the virus."

"The false theory linking 5G to the coronavirus has been especially prominent, amplified by celebrities like John Cusack and Woody Harrelson on social media," continued the report. "It has also been stoked by a vocal anti-5G contingent, who have urged people to take action against telecom gear to protect themselves." Cusack and Harrelson have since deleted their tweets, but the conspiracy theory continues to spread.

"The idea has deep internet roots," said the report. "An analysis by The New York Times found 487 Facebook communities, 84 Instagram accounts, 52 Twitter accounts, and dozens of other posts and videos pushing the conspiracy. The Facebook communities added nearly half a million new followers over the past two weeks. On Instagram, a network of 40 accounts nearly doubled its audience this month to 58,800 followers."

"After the British government issued shelter-in-place orders on March 23, some conspiracy theorists commented that it was a trick to secretly build 5G masts out of public view," said the report. "On April 2, in one of the first 5G-coronavirus incidents, telecom equipment in a neighborhood of Belfast in Northern Ireland was set ablaze, according to local officials."

British politicians have roundly condemned the attacks, and police in several cities are investigating.

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